Closures & Hours Changes
Top of the page
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, known as the lumbar area.
The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. The spinal cord runs through an opening in the bones called the spinal canal. Sometimes bones and tissue grow into this canal and press on the spinal cord and/or the nerves that branch out from it. This causes pain, numbness, or weakness in the back, buttocks, legs, and feet.
The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is changes in the spine that can happen as you get older. These changes include thickening of soft tissues, development of bony spurs, and the slow breakdown of spinal discs and joints over time. Any of these conditions can narrow the spinal canal.
The most common symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis is leg pain that happens when you walk or stand but feels better when you sit. Other symptoms may include numbness, weakness, and cramping in the back, legs, feet, or buttocks. Many people don't have any symptoms.
The doctor can usually diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis by asking about the history of your symptoms, doing a physical exam, and using imaging tests. The tests may include an MRI, CT scan, and X-rays. The tests can help your doctor be sure you have stenosis or can rule out other problems.
Treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis includes taking medicine for pain and getting physical therapy. Exercise and changing the way you do your activities may also help. Steroid injections to reduce inflammation in the nerve root are sometimes tried. If you still have symptoms after the treatments, surgery may be considered.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is changes in the spine that can happen as you get older.
These changes include thickening of soft tissues, development of bony spurs, and the slow breakdown of spinal discs and joints over time. Any of these can narrow the spinal canal.
These age-related changes often happen when you have certain disorders. For example:
Other causes include:
The most common symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis is leg pain that happens when you walk or stand but feels better when you sit. You feel pain in your legs because the nerve roots that pass through the lower spine extend to the legs. Symptoms occur when these nerve roots get squeezed.
Other symptoms may include:
Many people, especially those older than age 50, have some narrowing of the spinal canal but don't have symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may be very bad at times and not so bad at other times.
Narrowing of the spinal canal can squeeze and irritate the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord. This is what causes pain and other symptoms. It usually starts gradually and gets worse over time. Symptoms may stay the same, get better, or get worse. Most often, it doesn't cause disabilities.
or other emergency services immediately if a person has signs of damage to the spine after an injury (such as a car crash, fall, or direct blow to the spine). Signs may include severe back pain, or weakness, tingling, or numbness in one or both legs.
Call your doctor now if:
Lumbar spinal stenosis usually gets worse gradually over months to years. If you have symptoms that come on suddenly, you may have another serious condition and should call your doctor.
If you start to regularly have leg pain when walking and standing, call your doctor.
The doctor can usually diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis by:
Your doctor may try nonsurgical treatment, such as pain-relieving medicines, exercise, and physical therapy, for a period of time before ordering imaging tests. If treatment works, you may not need tests.
Treatments for lumbar spinal stenosis include:
Exercise and changing the way you do your activities may also help you feel better.
You can take steps to treat lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms at home. Be sure to talk with your doctor before you start home treatment.
Steps you can try include:
Current as of:
July 18, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: July 18, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Pay a Bill
Closures & Hours Changes
For Medical Professionals
Graduate Medical Education
Nursing at WellSpan
Clinical Research Programs
Who We Are
Make a Donation
Connect With Us
Non-Discrimination Statement/Language Access
Aviso Contra la Discriminación/Acceso a diferentes lenguajes
© WellSpan Health | Disclaimer & Policies